EDWARD III. AND THE HUNDRED YEARS' WAR
 EDWARD III. reigned for fifty years—from 1327 to 1377.
During the first four years, the government was in the hands
of those who had deposed Edward II.; but when
Edward III. was eighteen years old, he took the power
into his own hands. He was handsome, brave, and energetic.
In the greater part of his reign, the people gladly
supported him, for the wars which he carried on were
popular, and he let Parliament have much power. But, in his
old age, he grew selfish and extravagant, and troubles
 The most important thing in the reign of Edward III.
was the beginning of a long war—or rather a series of
wars—with France. We call this the Hundred Years'
War, because it lasted for more than a century, from 1327 to
Many causes combined to produce this long war. The English
Kings could not forget that they had once held Normandy, and
no King of France could be content so long as another King
was his vassal for so large a part of the kingdom as the
English King still held in Gascony. When Edward III.
renewed the English war with Scotland, the French King aided
the Scots; and when troubles broke out in Flanders, in
northern France, Edward III. supported the Flemish people
against their count, who was supported by his overlord, the
King of France. In this last quarrel, the English people
were strongly on the side of their King; for the industrious
cloth manufacturers of the Flemish cities were the chief
customers for England's wool.
When war had been decided upon, Edward III. made matters
worse by claiming that he was the rightful King of France.
His mother was the sister of the last preceding French King;
and when this King died without sons, Edward said that the
French crown should have gone to him, as that King's
nephew. But the French had a rule that no
woman could reign over France, and they decided
(as they had a perfect right to do) that this also shut out
those who claimed through a woman, as Edward
did. They therefore had given the crown to the nearest male
member of their royal house, whose right came entirely
through males. Even when the Hundred Years' War
finally ended, the English Kings did not cease styling
themselves "Kings of France"; and it was not until
 the beginning of the nineteenth century that this claim was
Two very famous battles—the battle of Crecy and
Poitiers—were fought in this war, while
Edward III. was King; and later, as we shall see, a
third battle—that of Agincourt—was fought by
Henry V. In all three of these battles, the victory
was chiefly due to the strength and skill of the English
archers, with their "long bows" and "cloth-yard shafts,"
which could shoot true for two hundred yards, and pierce
through coats of mail.
The battle of Crecy was fought in northern France, in 1346.
Edward III. had landed in Normandy, and marched up the
valley of the river Seine, until the flames of the villages
burned by the English could be seen from the walls of Paris.
Then he turned northward, with the French in hot pursuit.
He awaited their attack on a little hill at Crecy. The
French force was five times as great as that of the English,
and included a body of hired crossbowmen from Italy.
The crossbowmen were no match for the English longbowmen.
The English arrows fell among them "so thick that it seemed
as if it snowed," and they broke ranks and fled.
"Slay these rascals," angrily cried the French King,
pointing to the crossbowmen, "for they trouble us without
Battle of Crecy
"But ever still," says the chronicler Froissart, who wrote
about these wars, "the Englishmen shot wherever the crowd
was thickest. The sharp arrows pierced the knights, and
their horses, and many fell, both horse and men; and when
they were down they could not rise again, for the press was
so thick that one overthrew another."
 Edward III. had given the command of one division of
his knights (who fought on foot in this battle) to his
sixteen year old son, Edward the Black Prince. The King
himself guided the whole battle from the tower of a little
windmill on the battle field. Presently a messenger came to
him in haste, and said:
"Sire, those about the Prince are fiercely fought and sore
handled, wherefore they desire that you and your division
come and aid them."
"Is my son dead, or hurt, or felled to earth?" inquired the
"No, sire," replied the messenger, "but he is overmatched,
and has need of your aid."
 "Well," said the King, "return to them that sent you, and
say to them that they need send no more to me, no matter
what happens, as long as my son is alive. And also say to
them that I wish that they let him this day win his spurs.
For if God be pleased, I will that this day be his, and the
Night came, with the English lines still unbroken, while the
French were in hopeless confusion. The French King fled
wounded from the field, leaving behind him eleven princes of
France among the slain, and thousands of lesser rank. It
was one of the greatest victories in English history, and it
was won by despised foot-soldiers, of low rank, against the
nobly born nights of France.
The only profit which the English took from their victory
was to capture the city of Calais, just across the Straits
from Dover. The French inhabitants were driven out, and
English settlers took their places. The possession of this
city gave England a convenient entrance into France, and for
more than two hundred years it remained in their hands.
While Edward was fighting in France, the Scots sought to aid
the French by invading England. Edward's Queen, Philippa,,
gathered an army which defeated and captured the Scottish
King, at Neville's Cross. A song-writer of that time tells
how the Scottish King—
"Brought many bagmen,
Ready bent was their bow,
They robbed and they ravaged
And naught they let go.
"But shamed were the knaves
And sad must they feel,
For at Neville's Cross
Needs must they kneel."
 The battle of Poitiers was fought ten years later (1356) in
southern France. The Black Prince had started to march
northward into Normandy, but was met by an army many times
larger than his own. He offered to surrender the booty he
had taken, and his prisoners, and to bind himself not to
fight again for seven years, if the French would let him
retreat; but they refused. The English force was made up
chiefly of archers, as at Crecy. The French, who were
mostly armored knights, fought on foot, thinking it was the
dismounted knights of the English who had won the day at
Crecy. The English were stationed on a little plateau,
protected by a hedge and by some rough and marshy ground.
The English archers did their work so well, that the first
and second divisions of the French broke ranks and fled,
before they came within striking distance of the
 English. Then the third division advanced, under the
command of the French King himself.
Battle of Poitiers
"Then was there a sore fight," say the chronicler Froissart,
"and many a great stroke was given and received. The French
King, with his own hands, did marvels in arms; he had a
battle-ax in his hands, wherewith he defended himself, and
fought in the thickest of the press."
But it was in vain. The third division of the French at
last fled; and the King and his youngest son, refusing to
flee, were taken captives by the English Prince. The whole
English army was made rich by the gold, silver, and jewels
which they took.
"That day," says Froissart, "whoever took any prisoner, he
was clear his, and he might let him go or ransom him as he
The French King was kept captive for four years, though he
was entertained with great festivities. In 1360 he signed a
peace (called the Peace of Bretigny) by which he agreed to
pay an enormous ransom, and give up his rights as King over
Gascony. In return, Edward III. agreed to give up his
claim to the French throne.
This treaty was never fully carried out, and war began again
nine years later. Edward III. was now feeble and
worn-out, and the Black Prince was suffering from a disease
which carried him off a year before his father finally died.
On the other hand, an able and energetic King now sat on the
French throne, who fought no useless battles, but bit by bit
conquered the lands of the English. When Edward III.
died, in 1377, Calais, and a very small part of Gascony,
were all that remained of his once extensive possessions in
The Black Prince
 For a time, the English people had profited from the French
war. Almost every household could show some spoil—a
featherbed, rich clothes, fine weapons—won by the
bravery of husband, brothers, or sons. But soon heavy taxes
had to be laid to provide for the expenses of the war.
Worst of all, in the midst of this prosperity came a great
pestilence, called the Black Death—the worst sickness
that England ever knew.
The Black Death was a form of that disease called the
"bubonic plague," which is still common in Asia. This
attack started in China, and made its way slowly along
caravan routes of Asia, until it reached the Black Sea.
was carried by ships of Italian traders to the cities
Italy, and thence to France. It appeared in France two
years after the battle of Crecy, and soon passed over
England. Germany, Norway, and Russia all suffered from
It was the scourge of the civilized world.
We know that the "plague" is carried by a certain kind
fleas, which live on rats; and it is probable that the
and rats came in the bundles of merchandise which
and ships brought and
 spread throughout Europe. The disease spread from
country to country, from city to city, from village to
village, from house to house.
When it once appeared in a house, all of the
inhabitants were almost sure to be attacked by it.
Even pigs, sheep, and other animals died from its
effects. It showed itself by the appearance of dark
blotches and boils on the body, from which we give it
its name—"the Black Death." Persons seized by it
in the morning were often dead by night. Few recovered
who were once attacked by it.
The number of persons who died is difficult to
estimate. In some places almost all of the people
perished; in England as a whole fully one-half were
swept away. Probably one-third of the population of
all Europe died from it. A monk described its ravages
in France in these words:
"It is impossible to believe the number who have died
throughout the whole country. Travelers, merchants,
pilgrims, declare that they have found cattle wondering
without herdsmen in fields, towns and waste lands.
They have seen barns and wine-cellars standing wide
open, houses empty, and few people to be found
anywhere. In many towns where there were before 20,000
people, scarcely 2,000 are left. In many places the
fields lie uncultivated."
Often there were left no priests to console the dying.
The dead were buried hastily, great numbers at a time,
in long ditches dug in the fields—for the
cemeteries were filled to overflowing.
Try to think, for a moment, what all this meant to the
countries concerned. The disease soon passed away,
except for a few milder reappearances. But the effects
of its ravages remained for centuries.
 In England, before the Black Death, there were about
four or five millions of people. When it had passed
away, there were about half this number, and it was
long before the number of inhabitants again rose as
high as three million.
Field laborers became scarce, and those who were left
demanded increased wages. Many "villains" left the
estates of their masters, and fled to the towns, or
found places elsewhere where their lot was easier.
Parliament passed laws to keep wages and prices at
their old level, but these could not be enforced. The
old system of labor and agriculture broke down, and a
new one gradually took its place. In part the change
was a benefit to the laborers, by enabling them in the
end to better their condition; but at all events it was
a revolution in the organization of society.